Published on September 12th, 2008 | by Guest Contributor0
GTR Green Blogger Series: Paul Smith of TriplePundit and Ecopreneurist
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Sean Daily: Hey everybody. This is Sean Daily with Green Talk
Radio and we’re very excited today to be doing another installment in
our Green Blogger series. And today’s guest is Paul Smith, who is very
well known to many of those in the LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) industry. He’s a blogger for
the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com, two green business
TriplePundit is a conversation about conscious, responsible business
in the context of today’s environmental and social challenges and
Ecopreneurist provides news and advice on sustainable and social
entrepreneurship. Paul’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting,
which helps businesses go green with integrity, transparency, and
power. He has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of
Management in San Francisco.
Paul, welcome to the program.
Paul Smith: Thanks very much.
Sean Daily: Well, it is great to have you. Let’s just jump in
by…well, let me just start by saying that you and I actually came in
contact with each other through this whole world of new media and
social networking. I think we discovered each other on Twitter. For
those of you who are not on Twitter, it’s a microblogging site that is
also really a conversational community of people talking back and
forth. It sort of has to be experienced. It’s tough to explain. But
it’s also quite addictive, I think. [laughter]
Paul Smith: For sure.
Sean Daily: As we’ve discovered. But very cool for networking for
folks within one’s industry. So I first heard about you on there and
then realized I already knew you from the writing that you had done on
the two sites that I mentioned. So I’m curious just to have you tell
us your story and how you came to be both a writer as well as a green
Paul Smith: Well actually, it’s sort of an interesting story.
About three or four years ago I got West Nile virus and I nearly died
Sean Daily: Whoa! I did not know that. I didn’t see that on your Twitter stream. Wow. That’s quite something.
Paul Smith: That was pre-Twitter days. But, yeah. And so I came
back from that and had really like a second chance in life. You know,
I said, “Geez, what am I going to do with it?” And I was talking with
a friend who is an intuitive among other things, and she said to me –
we were in a restaurant – and she looks around and I said, “What do you
see me doing next?” And she says, “There’s something to do with the
colors of the walls here in the restaurant…” They were orange and
green – sustainability. “…and Utne Magazine.” And I said, “What?”
The next day I started seeing sustainability things everywhere and I
realized that my interests that I thought were under all these
different categories all sort of were within this realm of
sustainability. Ode Magazine was one of my favorite magazines out
there and it just…I was always inspired by what the people would do in
there, just creating solutions where there seemed to just be
impossibilities. And I wanted to do that myself, too.
And so now, with this renewed commitment to do something with my
life, I realized it had to be within the realm of sustainable
business. And then I started searching and I found Presidio School of
Management, which was in San Francisco where I lived nearby at the
time. And, as you might guess, the website is orange and green, the
same colors as that restaurant and they advertise in Utne Magazine.
So I ended up going through that program, got an MBA, which it
really was quite a good program to help bridge between green business
and how it’s done now, rather than it just being an “us versus them”
sort of thing so that I was better able to sort of speak the language
of how people that are doing things the typical way now and then bridge
them into doing things how they could be.
And then where it leads to blogging is that one of my classmates,
Nick Aster, who helped start TreeHugger and also started TriplePundit, had asked me if I wanted to write on there,
which I agreed to and started doing that probably a year and a half
ago. And from there, through various connections, I ended up
connecting with Jeff from Green Options, which is a whole group of
blogs, and ended up writing for Ecopreneurist.
Sean Daily: Who I should say was recently a guest on this show, as
well, on the Green Blogger series. Jeff McIntyre Strasberg.
Paul Smith: Yeah, exactly. And then after getting out of the
Presidio program I found I was just skilled in a lot of different areas
and that I could offer things to many different businesses and so I
created a consulting company called GreenSmith Consulting, as well.
Sean Daily: Now, being a writer, just focusing on the blogging side
– I want to ask you about GreenSmith as well – but being a writer for
two different blogs, I can just imagine you must have a lot of green
ideas and developments come across your desk all the time. Are there
any in particular that have you excited right now that you’d want to
Paul Smith: Yeah, absolutely. In the past couple weeks it’s been
really on my radar the whole idea of a distributed energy grid. It’s a
same sort of model as how file sharing is done, the whole MP3 file
sharing thing where it’s not just a central computer, it’s several
computers all over the place taking the load as need be wherever in the
world it needs to be. And the same idea is popping up for energy.
Rather than just having these big, fixed, coal-fired power plants, the
idea is to have many, many places that are using renewable sources to
get energy. And they generate more than they need, put it into the
system, and then as the needs shift from place to place, the energy
And with a more distributed grid it’s actually stronger because
rather than if the central place gets knocked out you’ve got hundreds
of thousands of people with power out. If some one person among this
grid has issues, that’s OK because there’s so many more that are out
there. And it’s not just talk, it’s happening right now. In Europe
right now there’s a property company there that they’re building I
think it’s like a 250,000 square foot property that’s going to
generate enough excess electricity to power 14 homes for a year. And
if you imagine, many of those – small, big, medium, all these different
sizes – putting energy out there and sharing with one another, it’s a
pretty powerful way to have a really reliable source of energy in the
Sean Daily: Yeah, that’s very cool. So is this something you guys have covered editorially on Ecopreneurist?
Paul Smith: No. I actually haven’t done that yet. I haven’t seen
that particular company that’s helping harness this yet, so it doesn’t
necessarily fit within the blog. It’s that just, personally, overall
as a sustainable blogger and consultant, I see as something that’s
going to be pretty powerful in the future.
Sean Daily: Looking into your green crystal ball of business in the future.
Paul Smith: [laughter] Yeah. And if people want to read about
that there’s an article about it in the current issue of Ode Magazine.
And also there’s a website called Celsias, which is spelled with an “A”
at the end, and they have an article there, too, talking about there’d
be powers starting up in the Nordic countries, wind tower and wave
generated power down into the African countries, using solar power and
putting that throughout the deserts.
Sean Daily: Yes. Celsias, actually I was recently in a
conversation with – they’re based out of New Zealand, I believe. Is
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: I was in a conversation with somebody who’s a writer over there. So that’s good. So that’s C-E-L-S-I-A-S.com?
Paul Smith: Yes.
Sean Daily: OK. Great. And Paul, just switching gears a little
bit, you know we’re hearing a lot these days – and I think, in some
cases, feeling – a lot of green fatigue that’s sort of settling in for
a lot of consumers, again, even for some journalists who cover the
space, and bloggers, and so forth. I’m curious about how you
personally keep from becoming green saturated?
Paul Smith: [laughter] That’s a good question because, I mean, in
my work I’m sitting in it all day long. I think what inspires me is
just seeing the increasing number of large conventional companies
seeing a different way to do business and going for it. For instance,
[xx] Frito Lay, apparently, they’re converting one of their factories
from using enough natural gas for 13,000 homes a year to now, they’re
going to convert it to solar and biomass power entirely. And if Frito
Lay – you know, the junk food company you ate when you grew up – is
doing that, I think that’s pretty amazing.
Sean Daily: Yeah. Well, it’s definitely a good sign. It’s
interesting that you brought up – this sort of harkens back to
something that came up in an interview that I did with Starr Vartan of
EcoChick. We were talking about authenticity within the industry and
sort of evaluating green companies. So that’s something I want to
save for after the break, but I want to come back to that.
And at this point we’re actually going to go ahead and take that
break and we’ll be right back on Green Talk Radio. We are talking
today with Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com
and Ecopreneurist.com, two green business sites, as well as the founder
of GreenSmith Consulting. We’ll be right back on Green Talk Radio.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on Green Talk Radio. This is Sean Daily
talking today with green blogger Paul Smith. He blogs for the sites
TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com. They are business focus
sites. And he’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting.
Paul, we were talking before the break about your background and we
were talking a little bit after that about green fatigue and how to
avoid that and how you avoid that with the voluminous amount of
information coming across your desk related to green business ideas and
I can only imagine what else. I wanted to switch gears a little bit to
talk about your writing. What keeps you inspired to write with all the
writing you’re currently doing?
Paul Smith: I think what inspires me most is when I see the
conversations that go on as a result of what I’ve written. You know,
you sometimes sit there writing in your office and you don’t realize or
you forget what an effect that it has out there and who’s reading it.
For instance, I wrote about coconut-based ice cream recently and…
Sean Daily: I love that stuff, by the way. It’s coconut bliss. That stuff is awesome. [laughter] I have to say.
Paul Smith: No doubt. You know, I wrote about that because it’s
something I like myself and I said, “Oh, I’m going to contact them.
I’d like to get them more exposed.” So I did that. And then watching
the conversations unfold where people said, “Oh my God, this is great.
I really don’t like soy and rice based ice cream and I can’t have
dairy. It’s so good to know that there’s this option out here and I’m
going to go find it.” And it’s like, you know, I created a new
possibility for somebody out there because of what I wrote. And so
that definitely inspires me.
Sean Daily: Yeah. That’s really cool. It’s funny you mentioned
that company because we just got some of that the other day. My mom
came over and she was raving about it to my wife and the grandkids. So
it was like, “Alright, we’ll go get it.” The kids don’t like coconut
so much so they’re comparing it to Baskin Robbins, but my wife and I
were like, “Yeah” because it has gavé in it so it’s really low on the
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: And the chocolate one doesn’t actually taste too much
like coconut, actually. The vanilla one has a little bit of a hint,
but I like coconut so that wasn’t a problem for me. Anyway, not to get off course, but that stuff is really good. [laughter]
So I’m curious also about where do you see things going in general?
Paul Smith: Yeah. It’s kind of a moving target these days, but
what I see is that increasingly people will see that it’s just common
sense to do business in this way, that it’s not just a trendy thing. I
mean, right now it is a bit of a trendy thing with the whole slapping
green label on things, but the underlying operational making changes in
how you do business in a way that’s more efficient and we’re just going
to increase the longevity of the supplies used to make whatever you
make and increase the good opinion that people have of your business.
I think that it will become just business, not green business, after a
Sean Daily: Yeah. Well, hopefully it will just be integrated into
what you have to do. It’s sort of like having an accountant or keeping
the books. It’s like you must be acting as a company, just as an
individual, in sustainable ways to sort of even be effective and
competitive in the market, both in terms of the manufacturing processes
and the logistics of business as well as politically in the perception
of the consumer audience.
But that sort of begs another question, Paul, which is how do we
really – in this sort of wild west industry that we’re in – how do we
evaluate these companies and their authenticity in making the claims
that they do? I mean, I know you do a lot of that kind of work with
the GreenSmith Consulting side of things in consulting with these
companies to educate them on that. What are you telling them and how
do you determine who’s green and who’s not?
Paul Smith: That, I mean, basically it boils down to transparency
and honesty. It’s, you know, no company is 100% green. There’s always
something in there that’s going to have an impact. And I think not
overstating what you do, just being clear and honest about it. For
instance, Cliff Bar [sp?] is a good example. They started converting
their company to a more sustainable way of doing business around 2001
or so and they still say, “This is a journey in progress” and they
don’t hide the things that they haven’t been able to meet what they
would like to have as a standard.
Also, as a consumer, it’s just basically if you can, do your
homework. Take a look into this company and see. Do they walk the
talk that they’re putting out there? And don’t just go by something
saying that it’s not petroleum based because if they’re just going on
one factor, it’s not something. You know, look and see – does that
something that they’re replacing it with, is that going to be the equal
or perhaps more impact, but it just isn’t less of an obvious target?
Sean Daily: Right. Are you trading one devil for another? In some cases.
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: That makes a lot of sense. I’m wondering, too, what
are your thoughts on the authenticity side and sort of evaluation? I
mean, we have some organizations out there like the [xx] Counsel, but
we don’t really have any centralized body or organization or standards
organization to evaluate across the board. Is there anything happening
there in that area to help with that? Or are consumers still sort of
on their own?
Paul Smith: It depends on the industry. Of course, with foods,
there’s a USDA organic standard, and depending on what country you’re
in there’s different official standards for that. Europe tends to be
more ahead of us as far as that goes and having standards that are
consumer facing. There’s a lot of business, industrial facing
standards that are within the U.S., but as far as how to [xx] the
consumer, they’re not so much there.
I think what it is is that in the next couple years, that that’s
just going to have to happen because people are getting more educated
and they’re wanting to be spoken to more straightly and the market’s
just going to demand that that be so. So it will happen because if you
get all these pseudo-green labels that don’t mean anything and it gets
exposed, that’s going to hurt everybody.
Sean Daily: It risks implosion of the whole concept, really, that happening.
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: You know, sort of as a corollary to that follow up,
what becomes also difficult, in my estimation, is where we have some of
the larger corporations that acquire companies that are acting
sustainably, that are doing it right, that at some point sell out. And
I’m not faulting those companies because I understand they’re also a
business and they have that right and that’s sort of a foundation of
our economy and capitalism. But when that happens, it becomes
We were using the example of companies that have been somewhat PR
challenged in the past about being green. Companies like Clorox that
manufacture a lot of products that are very harmful when put down the
drain, for example, in terms of containers and things like that. Then
they acquire a company like Burt’s Bees that had a really good
reputation as being a very green company. How do we then evaluate
those companies as a whole when really they’re a conglomerate,
multi-national corporation that has within it both green and un-green
elements? That’s where it seems to get really tricky.
Paul Smith: Yeah. That’s sort of been a peeve of mine over the
years, is when people judge companies just overall as a bad company
because they do these things that are not so green in some aspects and
they’re not entirely green. Wal-Mart’s another example of that. I
think that companies deserve to be acknowledged when they do take
positive steps forward. And, sure, definitely challenge them on what
they still need to go further, but don’t just outright discount them
because they’re not entirely there.
And with Clorox, actually, from what I’ve heard – correct me if I’m
wrong – but they were creating a green cleaning product line, which was
actually quite good. And they did their homework and studied the
science to create some quite good products.
Sean Daily: Yes. And actually Starr was using them as an example
of a company that is doing a lot of good things and didn’t perhaps
deserve – I don’t want to mis-paraphrase what she said – but she was
actually talking about some of the good things they’re doing but that
it’s a mixed bag and so it wasn’t so much that they were a bad example,
just an example of a large company that had both sides. And it was
really speaking to the more general topic of how do we then, as
consumers and as businesses and so forth, evaluate those companies or
just the challenge that sort of inherently exists there when it is a
But I liked what you said. I’ve not heard it said that way and I
think that it’s really important, which is just for them to be
forthcoming about “this is a journey, here’s where we are.” The
transparency side, that’s what I think we don’t get. What we tend to
get as consumers more often, at least from my view, are these large
companies that say, “Hey look, we just got these guys,” right? And so
you’re like, “OK, but what am I supposed to do with that? Am I just
supposed to think you’re just green now because you own this one
brand?” No, that’s a brand acquisition. You know, that’s strategic
business and politically. So I think that that’s sort of…if it becomes
thematic within the company, that would be more impressive, at least to
me personally, where I’m seeing that this is part of an overall trend –
“we’re going to take our existing brands and products and we’re going
to make them greener.” But in the meantime, we’re also seeing these as
strategic acquisitions as an overall corporate strategy and belief
system. That would mean a little bit more.
Paul Smith: For sure. And it was interesting to watch with Burt’s
Bees that, yes, they were acquired by a large company, but then, I
don’t know if you noticed, but the advertising for them actually became
much more aggressive and was talking about these ingredients versus
these ingredients in other products, which the first thought that came
to my mind is; does the other products that that company makes outside
of Burt’s Bees, do they add those chemicals that they’re just talking
Sean Daily: Yeah. Is there consistency here? Yeah, that’s
interesting. I’ll have to look into that. That’s an interesting
Great. Well, we’re going to take one last break and we will be back
talking with Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com
and Ecopreneurist.com and he’s also the founder of his own business
that does green business consulting called GreenSmith Consulting. You
can find them online at GreenSmithConsulting.com. We’ll be right back
on Green Talk Radio.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on Green Talk Radio. This is Sean Daily
talking with blogger Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites
TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com. He’s also the founder of
GreenSmith Consulting and they consult with businesses on their green
strategies, both internally and externally.
So Paul, we were talking about this industry and the sort of trends
in green business in authenticity and transparency in companies that
are making green claims. Stepping back from all of that, so you see
all this as, ultimately, being a fad? Looking back into that green
crystal ball we were talking about earlier, do you see all this being a
fad in the larger view over time, say, ten, fifteen, twenty years, or
even more, or is there really long-term staying power here?
Paul Smith: I think both because you can see everywhere that there
are a lot of companies that are just sort of jumping on it, putting
green wherever they can because it’s a popular thing these days. And I
think that part, the trendiness, the popular social credibility sort of
thing, that that will probably fade. But I think that the lessons
learned from companies that actually really do green their business in
a meaningful way and see the benefits and the long-term benefit to
their brand and their sales, that’s going to stick around because
basically when you’re a business person, you want to see what helps the
company keep lasting and keep making more money. And if you see these
things are doing that you’re going to keep doing it. And there are
more and more examples that are going to be popping up around that.
And I think with the diminishing energy supplies for what we
conventionally used happening, there’s got to be more of an investment
in renewable energy sources and just being creative with re-using what
you use in your business for energy sources. For instance, with the
beer companies taking the dregs of what they produce to use for
biomass-based energy production in their own factory. And I think
people always want to be creative and innovative in what they do. And
this is going to be an ongoing thing in business, I see.
Sean Daily: Good. Well, that’s certainly a positive vision of the
future there and I that that’s true. And I hope, like you said, going
back to a different version of the word transparency, I hope this
becomes sort of an assumption in businesses in the future and that it
doesn’t even require the attention. It’s just sort of in there
automatically and that we can trust it. I don’t know if that’s a
realistic vision, but it’s one that I like to dream of sometimes.
Well, thanks again for being with us. Our guest today has been Paul
Smith. He is a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and
Ecopreneurist.com. He’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting that
helps businesses in their efforts to go green. And Paul, again, thank
you for coming on a sharing all this information with our audience.
Paul Smith: Thanks for having me here.
Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.
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